My First Week of Culinary School

I was always the best cook I knew. I remember telling my parents before I went off to school; “I’m not going to school to learn, I’m going to school to prove I could already do it.”

By the time my first grades came in on my first lab, I was met with a dissatisfying 80%.

80% is good though right? Well, it just isn’t what I expected. I came to school with a pretentious attitude that I already knew everything and it would be easy. I fully expected to get 100% on that first lab. I mean…vegetable cuts sounded simple enough. I was quickly shot down when my Chef started pulling out inconsistencies in my julienne and telling me my brunoise was too big. I was disappointed with how my leeks were not uniform and my julienne was 1mm too big. But that wasn’t what disappointed me the most.

As I looked around the class, I saw people with perfect platters of uniform vegetables and the Chef marking 10/10 on his grading sheet.

In that moment, I experienced something I had never experienced before. In that moment, I was no longer the best out of my peers.

Back home, I’m always the one in charge of big family dinners. I cook for my friends and their families and they give me huge amounts of praise for my elaborate plates and creativity. But here, I’m the same as everyone else. I can’t cut a carrot to a perfect uniform julienne because I never actually took the time to train myself to do that. I wasn’t a perfectionist and my attention to detail was never that precise. I cooked from the heart and that was always good enough. Culinary school is a whole different beast though. Instructors don’t care about your heart, or your passion or even your creativity in the lab. They care about your raw skills and how hard to worked to hone them. They care about your ability to follow direction and cook with intuition. I could have been the most expensive sword in the armory, but I was nothing unless I was sharpened and honed properly.

The next day I had my second lab, a large scale cooking lab where we had to make 18-40 portions. This is to test organization and communication. The food itself is very straight forward. A turkey burger, with avocado and tomato salsa. I’ve made more turkey burgers than I care to count. I can practically do it with my eyes closed, and I’m confident that had I been alone in this lab, I would have been fine. The real challenge was working with 4 other people of whom I barely know. In an ideal scenario, I would be able to read all their minds and know what their current and next 3 tasks were but this wasn’t the case. Half the time I was looking for my team and wondering what had been done and what hadn’t. Our action plans were rough and it reflected in the overall production of the dish. It ended up slowing us down and our Chef was quick to take notice.

I guess I wasn’t really the hotshot super chef I thought I was.

And you know what? I’m glad I’m not. I’m super thankful that I have people who are light years better than me at cooking teaching me. I’m glad I have people who are just as good as me who I can learn with. I’m happy I have peers who are better than me who I can strive to surpass.

I’m glad I’m no longer here to prove. I’m just happy to be here to learn. I didn’t know that stocks don’t get boiled or that acid brings out the proteins in bones. I feel a lot better paying money to learn than paying to get certified.

Looking forward, I’m going to pay more attention to detail. I plan on organizing my action plans better and learning to communicate with everyone effectively. Hopefully those 70s and 80s will move up to 90s and 100s because I simply cannot accept my current marks. I came here to prove I’m the best and even if I’m not right now, I’ll work my way to the top until I am.

Culinary school shit on my ego and now I’m finally ready to learn again.

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